Finding utility in generational climate grief


Ryan Ehrhart, Co-Opinion/Page Design Editor

The current state of the climate crisis is a maddening purgatory that drains morale fast. The Crises of the 2020s have allowed the climate consciousness to drift further from the public mind despite the onslaught of reports damning continued inaction.

We live and drown in a carbon-driven world, and the extent to which we can reduce our own “carbon footprint” – a concept invented by British Petrol – is negligible in a world where the primary avenues to fulfillment and enjoyment of life are still carbon-centric. Driving with friends, cooking over gas and purchasing clothes are social, rewarding or fun activities that come with huge costs.

Gen-Z, however, faces an impossible demand to live along the most radical lines of footprint reduction. When a generation grows up at the end of the road, it doesn’t have the freedom to live inconsequentially.

Our generation is constantly burdened with the abstract impacts of all of our behavior. We know there’s now a connection between what we eat for dinner and how much carbon goes into the sky. We know that the water we use relates to the crimson skies of fire season. Millennials and Gen-Z are en masse debating the ethics of having children – our grief complex is all-consuming.

I and many others tend to turn inwards, and we blame ourselves for a crisis we did not create. That self-grief is, of course, not justified.

Our generation did not build the fossil-dependent society that entraps it. It is the fossil giants that have spent decades and millions preventing sustainable development, purchasing lawmakers and funding disinformation.

Despite this, grief will be inextricable from most of our lives, and I feel that because of this, we must find a utility in it. While grief shouldn’t prevent us from living or fighting, it can be harnessed as a means of changing how our human culture interacts with the Earth; a massive shift – but one we’ll need to make.

Grief can be a present reminder of the fact that we are humans who, at all times, have an effect on the Earth. Some tenets of the grief complex are perfectly sound – every action has a consequence, some much greater than others. While we may not yet have the avenues to perfectly ethical consumption, a mindset that considers the power we do have will be helpful in reforming our current extract-use-discard way of life.

Grief can challenge the consumerist lust that possesses our minds, and can prod us to see how harmful our current model is; it can – if by force – allow us to find fulfillment outside of the carbon model.

We’ll all have different experiences with climate grief in our lives. The staggering mental burden on climate scientists and activists – and their notable suicide rates – is proof of just how hard this pain is to process. We have to shift our focus and allow grief to be a weapon against the forces that would rather we all give up and destroy ourselves in the process.